Translate this Blog

Monday, June 10, 2013

Marshal killed at Canadian GP

I would just like to express my condolences to the family of the 38 yr old Marshal who died at the Canadian GP.

As all of you know, without these dedicated Marshals who do this dangerous work for the love of the sport, there would be no Formula 1.

These days such accidents are few and far between and I think the last time a Marshal was killed at a GP was 2001 in Australia when the wheel of Villeneuve's BAR passed through a gap in the safety fencing.

I trust that, regardless of the accidental nature of yesterday's fatality, all of the circuits will review their vehicle recovery procedures to ensure the health and safety of everyone on the scene.

May he rest in peace.

Vettel Booed on Podium

This is the second time this season that Sebastian Vettel has been booed on the podium.

The first race of the season saw the Australian crowd react badly to him though it was not as audible as at yesterdays podium ceremony.

I'm not in favour of this kind of behaviour, regardless of each individual's right to express his/her opinion.  In the same way that I don't agree with drivers cursing during live, post-race interviews I think that the winner of a GP deserves to be given due respect for the fact that he has raced and won that day.

I'm not a huge fan of Vettel and certainly I'd prefer Mark Webber beat him more consistently but the fact is that he blitzed all competition yesterday and for that deserves to be rewarded by the crowd showing a bit of respect.

Fans of F1, by their nature, tend to be well informed about their sport and it is not uncommon for each fan to support more than one team and more than one driver.

I, for instance, give a lot of my support to Williams, Button, Webber, Ferrari, Sauber, Massa, Raikkonen, and Rosberg but I also have a lot of time for Bianchi, Hamilton, Bottas, Mercedes and McLaren.  Then there are Team Principals and Tech Directors who are of interest culminating with (of course) Adrian Newey.

So while I may not be a great fan of Red Bull Racing I have an interest in them from my support of Webber and my awe of Adrian Newey.

Sebastian may not be the most loveable of characters but a lot of that is based on his success and success does not deserve to be booed.

For me there were only two occasions in all the time I've watched F1 where booing was acceptable, the first was the 2002 Austrian GP podium which was shambolic and the second was also in 2002 at Indianapolis.  Funnily enough it was Michael Schumacher who was deserving on both occasions - and I was a big supporter of MSC from his very first appearance with Jordan in the 191.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dr. Gary Hartstein on his time in F1

All video's today.

I haven't seen this one but will be watching it later to see if he has said anything about the way in which he was pushed out.  He expressed his anger quite forcefully on twitter after being replaced and did say he'd be giving his side of the story at a later date.

MSC drives the Nordschleife Run in F1 Mercedes

The video of Schumi enjoying the Nordschleife

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Honda McLaren Video

Here's the video of Honda and McLaren announcing their reunification in 2015

Honda Return!

At 8.32am GMT McLaren issued a press release confirming the rumours which have been circulating in the press and on the web since the new engine regulations for 2014 were first mooted back in 2011.

From the start of the 2015 season McLaren will partner with Honda as the works team for their 1.6 litre V6 turbo engine.

This is great news for the McLaren team, who enjoyed their most successful period in Formula 1 when partnered with the Japanese manufacturer winning 4 Constructor's and 4 Drivers Championships: the highlight of that partnership was the 1988 season when McLaren Honda won 15 of that season's 16 Grand Prix.

Takanobu Ito, President and CEO of Honda Motor Co. Ltd. provided an insight into the thinking behind Honda's return to the sport after leaving at the end of the 2008 season
The new F1 regulations with their significant environmental focus will inspire even greater development of our own advanced technologies and this is central to our participation in F1.  We have the greatest respect for the FIA’s decision to introduce these new regulations that are both highly challenging but also attractive to manufacturers that pursue environmental technologies and to Formula One Group, which has developed F1 into a high value, top car racing category supported by enthusiastic fans.
Martin Whitmarsh is understandably delighted:
The names of McLaren and Honda are synonymous with success in Formula 1, and, for everyone who works for both companies, the weight of our past achievements together lies heavily on our shoulders. But it’s a mark of the ambition and resolve we both share that we want once again to take McLaren-Honda to the very pinnacle of Formula 1 success. Together we have a great legacy – and we’re utterly committed to maintaining it.
Honda has built a reputation as a worldwide engineering giant, but its roots, its specialism and its passion lie in the advancement of the internal combustion engine. Throughout its history, Honda has pioneered engine technology in road cars, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. Indeed, its experience as a manufacturer of turbocharged engines is unequalled by any other car manufacturer currently competing in Formula 1.
Jenson Button, of course has 3 years experience racing with Honda who took over BAR in 2006, and won his first GP with them in that year.  It may be that his familiarity with Honda F1 personnel will be valuable, should he remain at McLaren in 2015.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How do you Solve a Problem like Marussia?

Journalists, commentators and fans have, in recent years, regularly discussed how to make the lower Motorsport categories of GP2, F3, etc. more relevant to F1 and also how best to break new F1 drivers into the top echelon of motorsport on merit.

Having never reached a consensus on how this might be achieved I was listening to the news today that Wigan had been relegated after losing to Arsenal last night and it suddenly struck me that F1 could operate in a similar manner, with a little help from the Concorde agreement and the FIA.

Let us assume that, at the end of this season, Marussia and Caterham are at the bottom of the F1 table why not relegate the bottom team and promote the top GP2 team.  This team would be provided, through the Concorde agreement, with a customer midfield F1 car for its first year - the midfield teams providing same on a rotation basis - and would have to give the GP2 and F3 champions a race seat.

A basic cost associated with going racing for the first year would be paid (a la Marussia at £38 million p.a), while 60% of any team revenue from sponsorship or other income would have to be saved to enable the design and build of a new constructor F1 car by its third year in the sport.

Should the new team survive its first year the Concorde Agreement provides half the racing costs for the second year with 40% of the previous season's sponsorship and another 40% of the second year's sponsorship paying for the rest and then are given £10 million the third year at which time the team becomes liable for all its costs and must operate as a full constructor. If the team does not survive the 60% saved revenue from each of the first two years is recycled by F1 to pay for the next promoted team.

F1 is then a meritocracy rather than simply monetary and the teams at the bottom are given an incentive to move up the grid and become de facto constructors.

Now I know the plan has flaws and it's probably easy to pick them out, but I do think there is the germ of a workable solution here.  This would provide for 11 teams on the grid, with the option for a 12th team to enter the sport should they have the money to do so.

Were a 12th team to seek a grid slot they would be given a 3 year grace period before becoming subject to the relegation rule.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this idea, especially those which point out the flaws.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lotus confirm Allison departure by announcing Nick Chester promotion

Lotus Press release:

Wednesday 8th May 2013
Nick Chester appointed Lotus F1 Team Technical Director
Lotus F1 Team is pleased to announce the promotion of Nick Chester to the position of Technical Director. Nick will replace the departing James Allison, who will leave Enstone after working with the team most recently since 2005 and previously from 1991-1992 and 1994-1999.
Nick has worked at Enstone since 2000, most recently as Engineering Director, and previously as Head of Performance Systems, Head of Vehicle Performance Group and Race Engineer. Prior to coming to Enstone, Nick worked for Arrows Grand Prix for five years.
Eric Boullier, Team Principal:
“We are pleased to announce Nick Chester as our next Technical Director. Nick is well known to everyone at Enstone having been with the team for over twelve years. He is already directly involved with this and next year’s cars, ensuring a smooth transition which has been underway for some time. It’s an illustration of the strength and breadth of talent at Enstone that we can draw on personnel of the calibre of Nick and it’s something of an Enstone tradition for new Technical Directors to be promoted from within. He assumes his new position at a tremendously exciting time for the sport. The 2014 technical regulation changes present many challenges, while our current position of second place in both the Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships mean we cannot lose sight of this year’s development battle. Nick really has his work cut out, but we know he is more than capable of handling the tasks ahead. As a team and individually, we would all like to thank James Allison for his efforts during his three stints at Enstone and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.”
Nick Chester, Technical Director, Lotus F1 Team:
“I have worked at Enstone for over twelve years and am delighted to take on the role of Technical Director. I am grateful to the management at Enstone for the faith they have in promoting me to this position. I am very aware of our need to keep pushing development of this year’s E21 whilst developing next year’s car to a set of very different regulations. There are some exciting times ahead for Enstone and I’m honoured to be part of it.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Teams to test resolve on in-season testing

Teams are to take a vote today on in-season testing, ESPN are reporting.

This vote has sneaked up on me as I've been a little out of the loop recently due to the fact that I'm struggling to keep my company afloat in these tough economic times and lately all of my efforts have been focussed on the "real" world rather than my passion; the upshot being that I haven't had time to check out all of the exciting things happening in the F1 world.

When you chuck in the fact that I don't watch Bahrain you can appreciate that it was easy to lose touch with the Blog.

Anyhoo, the hullabaloo about testing in-season has been Ferrari's pet peeve since it was banned in 2009 as a cost-cutting measure.

Prior to the ban being imposed the teams had a third pit team whose only function during the season was to go testing.  Each in-season test cost over $300,000 per team in terms of salaries, cars,parts, transport and accommodation.  But of course Ferrari have their own test track at Fiorano, making the whole thing much easier and far cheaper for the Italian team.

Jonathan Neale from McLaren seems to think that there are four teams in favour of testing but falls short of naming them.

I think I can do that for him:

Ferrari at Fiorano (obviously)
Force India (Silverstone)
Mercedes (Brackley - just down the A43 from Silverstone)
Red Bull (Milton Keynes - Just down the A5 from Silverstone)

I'm assuming that it is unlikely that Caterham or Marussia would support a return to in-season testing simply due to their budget issues, but the likes of Lotus and Williams are not too far away from Silverstone either so the costs associated with testing there might be achievable for those two teams.

Certainly, Williams would have a history of testing at Silverstone and would probably like to have in-season testing to focus their efforts on improving the car this season.

McLaren however are not in favour of a return to in-season testing, citing the economic climate, cost saving and equal opportunities as their reasons.

We know however that they test their cars in-season on their secret test track under the MTC as first revealed in Episode 1 of TOONED (with that kind of facility in place, out of the eyes of the prying media and FIA they can carry out their secret test programmes while pretending to be on the side of the little teams).

Friday, April 12, 2013

China Musings - Free Practice and Free Association

Even before the tyres spun for the first time at the Chinese GP expectations were high amongst the fans and Journalists that we were going to have an epic weekend, and none of that related to the racing.  We had Webber coming back into the limelight having kept schtum since making his disappointment clear to everyone in Malaysia.

We had ongoing discussions about the Red Bull way vs the Mercedes way,
We have Vettel's ever changing statements culminating in his statement that he'd do it again (regardless of team orders),
Christian Horner continuing to say that he's in charge (Don't be silly, I am still in charge)
Red Bull saying there'll be no more team orders
McLaren coming back after three weeks of hard graft
Ross Brawn seemingly getting closer to the exit
Bianchi being modest about his ever more apparent abilties

You know, it feels like a lot has happened in three weeks and yet nothing has.  Three weeks of analysing and picking apart a should he/shouldn't he team orders story.

Sir Rosberg the Good, Seb Vettel the Bold, Sir Hamilton the Humble, Sir Webber the Grump!

Now Rosberg was good and Webber had every right to be grumpy, Vettel was bold and should have been sent to the naughty step, but nobody believes Hamilton is humble; I don't think even Lewis would describe himself using that term, perhaps tha Shiznet (the link is not what you might expect Lewis!).

Felipe is the man in the chair beating his team-mate in the WDC and hoping to outqualify Fernando for the third time in three races tomorrow
© Scuderia Ferrari
And then Felipe Massa Comes along and ruins it by taking the Ferrari fastest on Day 1 of Free Practice, beating Kimi and Fernando into second and third. So now all of the Journo's have to pay attention to both of the Ferrari guys as well as both Mercedes and Red Bull drivers.

That's at least 6 interviews to look for, if Massa have finished behind Alonso they'd only need to do 5, and if Rosberg finish abaft of Lewis they wouldn't have to talk to him, which makes 4 interviews, Fernando's would be over in two minutes, and they could eat with Webbo, Vettel will stubbornly stick to his script, unless his team tell him otherwise so that just leaves an hour to sit down and listen to Lewis being humble...and sincere, and have to watch Roscoe drooling on his masters racing boots:

"Lewis, does your racing boot not slip off the pedals from all the drool your dog deposits on them?"

Then nip down to McLaren for tea and sorrows and finally to Force India for a bit of sympathy

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Will Bernie Ecclestone Destroy the US Economy

Just in case you didn't know yet, a group called Bluewaters Communications Group LLC, are attempting to sue Bernie Ecclestone over the Gribkowsky Bribe affair, say that they had a preferential bid on the table to take legal control of F1 from the banking group which took over in 2004.

That banking group contained the likes of Lehman, J.P.Morgan and Bayern LB Banks, all of whom wanted out of F1 in a big way apparently from the minute they got their hands on it.

They claim that Lehman Brothers and J.P Morgan approached their representative and asked if they would buy the Banks shares in the sport; those shares represented a controlling interest in F1.

Bluewater raised the capital they needed to make the bid and began negotiations with Gribkowsky, who represented Bayern LB, the only non-US bank involved and the largest shareholder in the Bank Group.

The basic claim is that Bayern LB paid Bernie a $65 million finder's fee, which he then paid $44 million of to Gribkowsky, who steered the sale of the Bayern shares to CVC Capital Partners Ltd.

Bluestone are miffed because they claim their bid offered sale price + 10% over any other offer on the table and reckon that the only reason CVC got the sale was because they promised to keep Bernie on as Chief Bottlewasher.

Bluestone had a stated offer of around $1 Billion on the table.

All this is quite interesting and also pretty boring for F1 fans, really because it's not part of the sport, just a corporate wrangling for control.

The thing that interests me about it comes from the fight over whether the case can be heard in the US courts.

One of the mainstays of the Bluewater case is that the fact that the bribe bank transfers were undertaken in US currency enable the US courts to hear the case, even though the transfers took place between banks in Switzerland and Austria, outside of the US.

This is very interesting, and you'll pardon me for now referring to Lee Child's, Jack Reacher novels to illustrate my point.

In the first Reacher novel "The Killing Floor" the plot revolves around a US Dollar counterfeiting ring and a lot of discussion takes place, obviously enough, about the US currency.  The point is made that, in the US banks, there is only about $350 Dollars per head of population, with the vast majority of the currency circulating outside the country and being used for business transfers, etc. This keeps the currency at a primary position in the currency markets with a lot of investors buying and selling Dollars, increasing confidence in the Currency and in the Country.

In other words, it's good for the US economy to encourage the use of Dollars in foreign transactions.

Should the New York Courts decide that US Currency transactions taking place abroad come under the jurisdiction of US Courts...well, the question I'm wondering is whether international business would continue to use the Dollar in non-US dealings?

Bernie Ecclestone: Could a $44 million law suit bring down the US Economy?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The (F)lighter side of F1

On the lighter side of F1 Richard Branson is finally honouring the bet he made with Tony Fernandes over which team would finish highest in the WCC in 2010.  Branson was heading Virgin F1 (now Marussia) in 2010 whilst Fernandes headed Lotus (now Caterham).

Photo taken from Air Asia's Facebook Page
Both rivals being the owners of their own airline as well as F1 team at the time made a bet that the losing team owner would serve as an Air Steward on the rival airline.

Lotus won the bet in Abu Dhabi in 2010 by finishing 10th whilst Virgin finished behind the HRT F1 team in 12th place.

Branson now looks set to honour the bet on Sunday 12th May, with all proceeds from the flight going to charity.  Tony Fernandes famously presented Richard Branson with his Stewardess outfit after the race in Abu Dhabi.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bahrain GP reprise

This is my annual blog about Bahrain and how I feel we shouldn't be racing there in the current climate.  This year I'm not going to get exorcised about it, my blog has, over the last two years made many statements with regard to my position on this race which I set out hereunder if you're interested.  This year I won't be doing a separate championship minus Bahrain as, frankly, it's a pain in the arse to maintain but, as with the last two years, I won't be watching the race weekend.

I've been following Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch over the last two years and they are still not satisfied with the situation in the country.  We can expect the newspapers and websites to provide a glut of information coming up to race weekend but it would appear that little, if anything, has changed since last year.

I remain disappointed with the FIA that they continue to sanction the race, with Bernie, and with the Teams for their position on this matter, but I'm not going to go into overdrive on this issue.  Last year I saw F1 Reporters trying to adapt their skills to investigative reporting whilst real journalists were being kicked out of the country by the authorities controlled by the ruling house. Let me just say that in the vast majority of instances they were found wanting.  Limited to the area between their hotels and the circuit, for their own safety, they were wide open to be abused by the PR machine sanctioned and operated by those in power.

All I can say is that I hope this year the F1 journalists stick to what they know best.

Once again I'll be spending that weekend wishing things were different, hoping that both parties can reach a satisfactory accommodation, and lamenting my favourite sport's decision to continue to race in a country which uses F1 as a political public relations tool.  I'm turning off - I hope you do too.

F1 Live Timing App not my cup of tea

I'm not the most tech literate person in the world and don't tend to get too excited by Apps, particularly paid ones, so I thought I'd give my view on the official Live Timing App for 2013 and on F1 distractions in general.

The fact is that I'm not a fan.  The live timing screen, which is free for those who sign up, gives all of the information that I need if I miss qualifying or want to follow Free Practice while I'm at work.

The F1 Cave
If I'm watching a Race or Quali then I like to enjoy the race itself.  If I was to enjoy timing screens, 3D pictures of where everyone is on the track, and of course Twitter, I'd need to slink off to the F1 cave where I could sit at my bank of computer and television screens watching TV, following each page on the App, and reading and contributing to the #F1 Twitter feed.  As well as that I'd want at least three in-car screens so I could follow 2nd place and two other battles on-track from the car behind.

Australian GP Control Room
It's never going to happen.  I'm not commentating on a GP so I don't need to distract myself in order to keep an audience informed.  I can sit back and watch the race unfold on the TV, subject to being able to find some quiet corner where the kids can't find me of course.

I'm not going to enjoy the experience any more if I water it down by inputting numerous other feeds into my brain.

What's more important the actual race or watching all of the other crap that everyone else is going to tell you about anyway?

If I were at a circuit and could be guaranteed an uninterrupted WiFi feed then this App would be worth every penny because you'd know where everyone was at any given time.

The experience of a live race is unrivalled by TV or any other form of tech, but it can be enhanced by things like Fanvision (which has parted ways with the circuits), this type of App (were the circuits to provide trackside WiFi), and the massively large TV screens dotted around the track: find yourself at a location without a view of one of those and you'll struggle to keep abreast of what's happening.

The fact is that I enjoy watching Quali and the races live but that's about all that's important to me.  Free Practice is only indicative and, while it's a must see when at the track, it's not important to anyone but the teams at the races.

The only TV coverage of Free Practice which I would find compelling and unmissable would be Thursday FP at Monaco.  The circuit may be anachronistic, obsolete, unsafe, and processional but it remains the jewel in the crown of the sport.  As a race Monaco may be a waste of time but watching those cars racing around that track at those speeds in close proximity is one of the most satisfying Televisual experiences going.

In summary, this App isn't for me, I want my plain, unvarnished racing to take place on my TV screen in front of me.  I would want access to all of the material after the race but I then I want access to everyone's data after the race and most of it pops up on the web somewhere or other.

F1 is desperately seeking to break through on new platforms and in new media but this kind of in-race application doesn't improve my viewing experience, it's an undesirable distraction; a distraction that will set you back about £24 - I'd prefer a cup of coffee

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Van der Garde to miss out on Free Practice sessions

A man who needs every second he can get in his latest motor is set to lose out on four Free Practice 1 sessions this season. Giedo van der Garde hasn't been able to get to grips with the Caterham in the same way as his team-mate Charles Pic and really should be given every available opportunity to drive the car, but the team are going to give the FP1 sessions to their test drivers Alexander Rossi and Ma Qing Hua.

Giedo van der Garde will lose valuable time in the car to test drivers
© LAT Photographic/Caterham F1

Van der Garde will sit out Free Practice 1 for the first time in Bahrain, probably to facilitate Rossi's quest for F1 experience.

He's not alone though, written into each of the Caterham contracts is the clause allowing FP1 to be utilised by the team's test drivers.  Charles Pic will give way in China so as to give Ma a run out in front of his home crowd.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Onboard View

Vettel/Webber the onboard view.  Worth putting up for as long as it's allowed

I have to say that Seb's story of Mark moving around all over the road doesn't hold up other than in setting himself up to defend in the first couple of corners.

It also confirms that Webbo could have been Verrrry nasty if he had wanted to be.

Williams announces Claire Williams promotion

Following on from Peter Sauber relinquishing his role as Sauber Team Principal to Monisha Kaltenborn last year and the 2012 influx of female drivers Susie Wolff and Maria de Villota into the driver development programmes of Williams and Marussia; Williams has today announced the promotion of Claire Williams to Deputy Team Principal, under her father Sir Frank Williams.

The succession announcement from the Williams F1 Team came as no surprise, but was welcome news nonetheless
© Williams F1
It is not the most surprising of promotions given Franks advancing years and the need to define a clear succession path for the future of the team and, let's face it, having grown up on the knee of one of the most influential and passionate Team Owners in the sport's history, Claire is likely to have learned more about running an F1 team by osmosis than any other replacement option would learn through years of experience.

Add to that the fact that she has worked within the team since beginning in the press office in 2002 and is privy to the experience and advice from a mind which has lived and breathed motor racing since the early 1960's and you have a successor who must understand every aspect involved in running an F1 team. 

However, to date Claire has worked as Head of Communications, Head of Investor Relations and will continue in her role as Director of Marketing and Communications in tandem with her new responsibilities as Deputy Team Principal.

What the new role will offer, that she does not already have, will be to experience the pressures and manage the expectations of every member of the team.  It is a considerable task but one for which she has been trained since before she could talk; whether or not she or Frank intended or desired that to be the situation.

Acknowledging her early and continuing influence Claire said:
I’m truly honoured to be taking on the role of Deputy Team Principal and look forward to working alongside Frank to help run the team this season and beyond. I have grown up in the sport and have learnt the ropes from one of Formula One’s legendary Team Principals and as a result I feel well equipped for this new challenge. I understand the commitment that every person within the team gives each day to see our car out on the track and I am determined to see us back at the top.  I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead but I have the full support of the Board and a very talented Executive Committee who will be invaluable as I move forward in this role.
Frank Williams will be happy to have Claire beside him
© Williams F1
Frank is obviously delighted with the appointment but delivered his press statement in typical terms:
Her knowledge of the sport and passion for the team is unquestionable and I’m proud to say that during her time here she has proven herself to be one of our most valuable assets. With Claire being appointed Deputy Team Principal, I know the future of Williams is in extremely safe hands. This appointment also had Ginny’s blessing who I know would have been incredibly proud to have seen Claire taking on this position by my side.
Frank's wife, Claire's mother, Virginia Williams passed away on the 7th March last after battling cancer for two and a half years.  The team had planned to announce this new appointment before the start of the 2013 season, but following the death of Lady Virginia Williams earlier this month, it was decided by Frank and Claire to delay this announcement to afford the family privacy.

Claire will take up her new position with immediate effect, will continue to be part of the Company’s Board of Directors and will be supported by and work in collaboration with the full Board.

Commenting on the events of the last month Claire Williams said;
It has been a sad month for my family and Williams as a company following the death of my mother, but as the season takes hold we must look to the future. It will be a privilege to play a part in taking the team into what I hope will be a successful next chapter.
May I take the opportunity to give Claire, her father and the team my best wishes for the future and once again pass on my condolences on the passing of Lady Virginia Williams

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ecclestone's first manipulation of F1?

Reading the Telegraph article today where Bernie Ecclestone gave out about the imposition of Team Orders by Red Bull and Mercedes in Malaysia last weekend I was struck by the following quote about his time in charge of Brabham:
I had one driver challenging for the world championship – I’m not going to say who it was – and the other guy that weekend happened to be b----- quick. I said to him, 'Whatever you do, you ought to take it easy and let the other guy pass you’. He said, 'I wouldn’t do that.’ So I replied, 'Well, you can stand up in the seat of the car and wave him past, so the whole world can see this if you want.’ But he insisted, 'I’m not going to do it’. So we just made sure he didn’t have enough fuel in the car to finish the race.”
My first and continuing reaction is to ask: Is this where Bernie learnt how to manipulate an F1 race for the first time?

The only reason he would be reluctant to say who the driver is because of two things:
1.  The driver is still alive and well, and
2.  The car never ran out of fuel due to other problems on the car

Now the driver himself must know who he is given that they had a conversation as Bernie sets out above but he won't say who it was.

I'm supposing, no I'm presuming, that the drivers in question were Niki Lauda and John Watson in 1978.  There was no other year where Brabham had two competitive drivers in a championship winning position, (You'll forgive me for not counting Riccardo Patrese as a championship contender when he was teamed with Piquet Snr).

Watson had been with Brabham for 1977, whilst Niki Lauda joined up after winning his second Drivers' Title with Ferrari in 1977.

A look back at the season showed that Wattie was right on the pace of Lauda and, but for the number of retirements suffered by both drivers, they could both have challenged for the Championship that year.

A summary of the 1978 Brabham season is set out below but for my money Bernie must have short fuelled John Watson at either the Belgian or Swedish GP's, before or after Sweden there would have been no point to doing it.

In the first race of the season Lauda came second, inheriting the position from John Watson with 10 laps to go when his engine blew up. In Brazil Lauda was on the pace, but after issues in qualifying Watson had to come through the field and finished 8th from 21st on the grid. In South Africa Lauda Qualified in Pole but the engine failed, John Watson finished 3rd. In America West at Long Beach Wattie retired from 2nd on Lap 9 with engine failure, Lauda inherited the place but retired on lap 28.  Monaco would have been John Watsons but driver error meant he only finished 4th to Lauda's 2nd.

A picture emerges of a very fast team-mate to the newly crowned Drivers' Champion.  Lauda retired in both Belgium and Spain while Wattie also retired at Spa but came home in 5th in Spain.  Theoretically, at this point, Lauda was still in the running for the Drivers' title on 16 points, 20 behind Mario Andretti and 10 behind Ronnie Peterson.  Watson was 7 points behind.  Just so you understand how close it was the scoring in 1978 was as follows:

1st      9 points
2nd     6 points
3rd     4 points
4th      3 points
5th      2 points
6th      1 point

So a couple of good results could put Niki Lauda right back in the running for the title, whilst John Watson, were he ahead, would have a pretty serious impact on proceedings, particularly if he were in first place.

And so to Sweden, Round 8 of the Championship, the halfway point of the season.  Brabham brought a new car, the BT46B to the race.  You may know it as the "Fan Car".  It only raced once, and would probably have sailed home to the title but Bernie withdrew it in order to get the agreement of the other team owners to allow him seize control of F1's commercial rights with FOCA.

Watson qualified the car in second, ahead of Niki Lauda.  It's accepted by most of those in the know that the qualifying was deliberate so as not to show just how much speed and grip the car had over it's rivals.  In the race Lauda got ahead of Wattie at the start and they continued in second and third until lap 20 when John Watson's car suffered a throttle failure.  Lauda overtook Mario Andretti for the lead and went on to win by over half a minute.  Andretti went out with engine failure on lap 40 and Lauda moved to 11 points behind him and only 5 behind Ronnie Peterson who came home in third.

In France Lauda failed to finish and Wattie came home 4th with 3 points and in Britain Lauda and Watson came home 2nd and 3rd in that order.  It was not inconceivable at this stage, Round 10 that Niki Lauda could not catch Andretti for the title, however retirements in Germany and Austria effectively ended his title chances with Andretti taking another win in Germany, pulling out a lead of 23 points over Niki Lauda.

In Austria the only person who could really challenge Andretti was Ronnie Peterson who won there in order to close the gap to 9 points.  After Round 13 in the Netherlands that gap became 12 points, Andretti taking the win with Peterson second and then, in Italy, the championship race was effectively over after the death of Ronnie Peterson.

Even though Lauda was now second in the championship, he was 20 points behind with only 2 rounds remaining.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Malaise in Malaysia

Some races are relatively boring, some are simply fantastic. Some are defined by controversy, some by cock-ups. And then we have Malaysia.

This race was none of the above.  It had moments of excitement, much of it was boring, There were cock-ups aplenty and the end was not simply controversial it felt like the beginning of a very public meltdown of the Red Bull team.

What happened here is worse than Schumi's desperate attempt to manipulate a dead heat situation in the US Formula 1 race at Indianapolis in 2002; It's worse than any of the shambolic "team orders" manipulations back in the days when team orders were not permitted; It is nearly as bad as David Coulthard "gifting" Mika Hakkinen his first F1 win in Jerez in 1997 under team orders and then gifting him the first race of 1998 after Mika cocked up and drove through the pits for no apparent reason (the beginning of Mika's rise and David's fall).

The difference is, of course, that team orders were ignored by Sebastian, very publicly ignored, and it caused a very serious upset within the team which was played out publicly in the immediate aftermath of the Grand Prix.

In his sights; Vettel eyes up Webber in Malaysia
© Pirelli F1
From my perspective, from the raft of outpourings across the web but most importantly from the fact that it was agreed before the race by the team, this was Mark Webber's race by virtue of the two driver's positions after their last pitstops.

I'm all for healthy rivalry between drivers and I do believe that drivers should be allowed to race their team-mates, but the F1 rules allow for team orders and in that case, regardless of my personal feelings, the team have every right to agree the order in which their drivers finish.  After all, the Drivers' Championship is only a silver medal in the team's eyes, the Constructors' Title is the Gold Standard.

Finishing 1-2 in a GP is their only desire, at this stage of the season.  Sebastian Vettel, by his actions, deliberately and publicly refused to take one for the team.  He breached team orders, flouted their authority, and very possibly compromised his chance to win the Drivers' Championship.

To quote the bible - which I rarely do: They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.

Your team-mate is your only ally on the racetrack.  When you are ahead of your team-mate on points in the back end of the season a decision has to be made by your team-mate as to whether he will support your run for the title.  If he does, you have a wingman to protect you from the competition.

Conversely, your team-mate can be your greatest obstacle too when he decides that he won't let you past to take valuable points; when he is "unable" to keep your rivals behind; when he races against you for position.  This costs a driver valuable time and crucial points; and can ultimately cost Championships.  Webber's words after the race may presage future action in any similar situation:
 I was completely reassured twice that we were not going to abuse the cars on each other because it was very easy for us to not get any points for the whole team
We saw on a later replay that, should he have wished to, Mark could have pushed Sebastian wide to maintain track position.  He took one for the team but will get no kudos for doing so in this instance.

Mark has the same car as Sebastian and this negative motivation will make him want to beat Seb, to obstruct him, and to delay him.  This kind of thinking is about as strategic as Custer's last stand.

Add to that the fact that Mark Webber is a great friend of Fernando Alonso and, should push come to shove...

Sky Sports talked about Vettel's youth, but he's 25 and has been in F1 since 2006, first as a test driver and racing full-time in the sport since 2008 with Toro Rosso/Red Bull.  He's also a triple World Champion.  I'm afraid that he has no excuse in this particular instance, nor did he look too repentant on the podium.

Lewis looks sheepish, Mark looks "contained" but Sebastian looks...satisfied?
© Pirelli F1
All you have to do is look behind the Red Bulls to the two Mercedes and you see team orders in action.  In that instance though I disagree with Ross Brawn and the team in what they did.  Nico Rosberg held station behind Lewis Hamilton because he was told to, even though he was far faster.  He argued the point, he wanted to overtake, and he let the team know he wasn't happy, but he obeyed the team's order.  That is how driver's must react to their team's authority.

Nico Rosberg.  Frustrated? Yes. Accepting? Yes
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
In the Mercedes case though it was the wrong order.  They should have told Lewis to pull over and let Nico through.  Lewis was saving fuel for what seemed to be the last third of the race.  He couldn't drive the car at any speed, he couldn't challenge the leaders, he could only hope to finish without running out of fuel.  Mercedes had made a strategic error in that they didn't put enough fuel in Lewis's car. Not so in Nico's case; he had no fuel problems.

Were these two drivers not team-mates Lewis would have given up the place without a fight to make sure that he made it home in the points.  Even if it had been Sergio Perez coming up behind him Hamilton would have ceded position to make sure he got the car to the end and the team would have told him to do it too.  The same should have held true for Nico.  It would have cost Mercedes nothing, Lewis was not able to race, and Nico would have had a deserved third place.

Having said all that the point is that Nico Rosberg held station as he was told to.  I trust the team, and his team-mate, will remember that at some point this season.

As for Mark, we can only hope that the sting of this incident will be washed away by a couple of weeks surfing back home.

This is not going to be the end of this, I can feel it in my bones. A Storm is Gathering; Can Red Bull manage to batten down the hatches before it hits?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Free Practice results Malaysian GP

Free Practice 2 Results

1. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin), Lotus - 1 minute, 36.569 seconds
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ger), Red Bull - 1:36.558
3. Felipe Massa (Brz), Ferrari - 1:36.661
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa), Ferrari - 1:36.985
5. Mark Webber (Aus), Red Bull - 1:37.026
6. Romain Grosjean (Fra), Lotus - 1:37.206
7. Nico Rosberg (Ger), Mercedes - 1:37.448
8. Paul di Resta (GB), Force India - 1:37.571
9. Lewis Hamilton (GB), Mercedes - 1:37.574
10. Adrian Sutil (Ger), Force India - 1:37.788
11. Sergio Perez (Mex), McLaren - 1.37.838
12. Jenson Button (GB), McLaren, 1:37.865
13. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger), Sauber, 1.38.068
14. Esteban Gutierrez (Mex), Sauber, 1.38.645
15. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra), Toro Rosso - 1.38.738
16. Pastor Maldonado (Ven), Williams - 1:38.801
17. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus), Toro Rosso - 1.38.904
18. Jules Bianchi (Fra), Marussia, 1.39.508
19. Valtteri Bottas (Fin), Williams - 1.39.660
20. Charles Pic (Fra), Caterham - 1.40.757
21. Giedo van der Garde (Ned), Caterham - 1.40.768
22. Max Chilton (GB), Marussia - 1.41.438

Free practice 1 Results

1. Mark Webber (Aus), Red Bull - 1min 36.935secs
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin), Lotus - 1:37.003
3. Sebastian Vettel (Ger), Red Bull - 1:37.104
4. Fernando Alonso (Spa), Ferrari - 1:37.319
5. Nico Rosberg (Ger), Mercedes - 1:37.588
6. Adrian Sutil (Ger), Force India - 1:37.769
7. Felipe Massa (Brz), Ferrari - 1:37.771
8. Paul Di Resta (GB), Force India - 1:37.773
9. Lewis Hamilton (GB), Mercedes 1:37.840
10. Romain Grosjean (Fra), Lotus - 1:37.915
11. Jenson Button (GB), McLaren - 1:38.173
12. Pastor Maldonado (Ven), Williams - 1:38.673
13. Sergio Perez (Mex), McLaren - 1:38.830
14. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger), Sauber - 1:39.054
15. Esteban Gutierrez (Mex), Sauber - 1:39.204
16. Valtteri Bottas (Fin), Williams - 1:39.208
17. Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra), Toro Rosso - 1:39.284
18. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus), Toro Rosso - 1:39.567
19. Giedo van der Garde (Ned), Caterham - 1:40.728
20. Jules Bianchi (Fra), Marussia - 1:40.996
21. Charles Pic (Fra), Caterham - 1:41.163
22. Max Chilton (GB), Marussia - 1:41.513

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The man who led Melbourne without overtaking a single car

As a spectator I really enjoyed the return to F1 last Sunday morning.  Long months have passed, full of rumour and non-stories and it's always a relief when the season gets underway again and we can talk about something concrete, tarmacadamed, and rubbered-in.

"You can’t start the season much better than winning the first race" - Kimi
©LAT Photographic/Lotus F1
After the delayed qualifying it was immediately obvious that McLaren were going to suffer under the glare of the world media and the whole of the F1 fanbase.  For the first time in years nobody was expecting them to be on the podium and the only question was whether they would be in the points.  Given the fact that they are further off the pace than they were expecting it was good to see Jenson Button have a (relatively speaking) good race.  His first priority was to finish, which he achieved. His second was to finish in front of his team-mate, which he achieved. And his third was to get points, which he achieved by finishing 9th.  McLaren may only have 2 points but considering their performance over the weekend that's better than nought, as Jenson said afterwards:
Having won the Australian Grand Prix three times so far in my career – in 2009, 2010 and 2012 – you’d have to say that today’s ninth place isn’t really much to write home about.
A statement with which his Team Principal, Martin Whitmarsh, agreed:
a ninth-place finish and an 11th-place finish don’t constitute much of a result by our sky-high standards, and ultimately the 2013 Australian Grand Prix weekend must therefore go down as a disappointing one for all at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Jenson led Romain Grosjean home, taking two points from a miserable McLaren opening Weekend
© Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
They can take some comfort from their horrible start in that Ferrari seemed out of the running last season, with Fernando Alonso taking 5th in Melbourne after a stunning drive from 12th on the grid but then ended up chasing for the championships.  If they can begin to get their house in order I'm certain that McLaren can find their stride again.

They also have precedent to bring back a modified version of last year's car.  If we remember their 2003 challenger, the MP4-18 (which we don't because it never raced) McLaren instead brought a D spec of the MP4-17 which had raced in 2002.  The MP4-18, much as the current MP4-28, was a complete redesign but suffered problems in testing, including a number of crashes.  The team have said that this car is all new under the hood and as such the problems may well be difficult to isolate; a heavily modified version of last year's car will be able to provide stability, speed, and reliability to the team which will let them keep in touch with the championship.  It might be less of a risk than continuing with the current proposal.

Valtteri leads Pastor in the GP on Sunday last, he also brought the car home
 © Charles Coates/Williams F1
Another team who seem to need a rethink after Australia is Williams.  They changed about 80% of the car from last year but only qualified 16th and 17th on the grid last weekend and only Valtteri Bottas managed to bring the car home, well outside the points in 14th.  Pastor Maldonado put the car in the gravel on lap 24.  It looks like they, along with the McLaren team, were not sandbagging during testing.  While the car may feel better than last year it seems that it is slow and they were well behind the Force Indias, the Lotus, and finished behind Esteban Gutierrez in the lone Sauber.  They were well off the pace of the Toro Rosso's too, which is a significant step back from where they were last year.  I hope they can fix it, it won't do their share price any favours.

Mike Coughlan said little about Pastor's brush with the gravel but you can be sure that he won't want to see any more of that this season:
It was good that Valtteri was able to bring the car home in his first race, but we have work we need to do now as a team to improve the performance
The Race Notes in the Press Release were less veiled:
Pastor Maldonado’s race came to early end as he lost the car at Turn 1 and ended beached in the gravel
Jules Bianchi, on the other hand was a revelation in his Marussia, beating the other three also rans at the back of the grid.  He was the only one of the four to be only one lap behind at the end of the race, coming home ahead of Charles Pic in the Caterham, Max Chilton in the other Marussia and Giedo van der Garde in last place.

Caterham were overshadowed and outraced by Jules Bianchi
© LAT Photographic/Caterham F1
Charles Pic didn't mince words post-race:
That wasn’t too bad a race for us. Of course we’d prefer to finish higher but I think that at this stage of the season this reflects our current performance levels
I know it's early in the season but it may well be that van der Garde has come to F1 just that little bit too late in his career.  I was giving out in the pre-season that David Valsecchi didn't get a race drive having finished GP2, but now I wonder if there is a moment in a driver's career after which he can no longer adapt to the increased rigours of Formula 1.  Horrible to think that modern F1 is such that by 27 it's too late to make a beginning in the formula.

And so to the front where the lead was shared by 7 drivers over the course of the Grand Prix.  Vettel lead from the off but couldn't make the most from their tyres, the conditions and set up of the car made it impossible for pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel to complete the race on anything less than a three stop.  From the start he pulled out a gap to the two Ferraris behind for the first 4 laps before Felipe Massa began to reel the Red Bull in and by Lap 7, when he made his first stop, it was clear that the car just didn't have the pace or stamina of those following. Vettel though was happy enough with the final result:
I think you’re always a little disappointed when you start first and don’t finish first, but overall it was a good weekend for us. We had a good day today with a pole and a podium – but in the race we were a little too aggressive with the tyres and lost the front and the rears, while others did a little better
Massa and Alonso had a great start to the Race and the Season in Australia
© Scuderia Ferrari
Massa lead for a lap before he too, being the lead Ferrari pitted, leaving Fernando Alonso to pit the next lap allowing Lewis Hamilton to lead Nico Rosberg in the two Mercedes.  When Hamilton pitted Nico took up the reins for a lap before his pitstop when, Adrian Sutil, in the Force India, utilising an unusual pit-stop strategy, inherited first place.

Sutil, who started in 12th place (technically 11th as Nico Hulkenberg failed to start in the Sauber) made up positions as everyone ahead of him pulled into the pits, first Button, then Romain Grosjean, Mark Webber, Vettel, His team-mate Paul di Resta, Massa, Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen all had pitted by Lap 9 leaving Adrian in an impressive 3rd place without having to actually overtake anyone on-track. Then when Hamilton and Rosberg pitted from on laps 9 & 10 respectively Sutil inherited 1st.

Adrian Sutil's strategy flattered the Force India Team
© Sahara Force India F1 Team
It looked more impressive live in the race than it actually was.  On his return Adrian Sutil was leading the race in a Force India.  For the seven laps he lead he was being caught by the cars behind him and when he finally pitted to replace his old Hard Tyres with a new set of the same he emerged in 7th place.  The Force India strategy was certainly audacious, as, intending to pit only once more for a set of the supersofts, Sutil once again began to climb the leaderboard as the other teams completed their second pitstop of three.

First Massa pitted and 7th became 6th, then Rosberg retired - 5th, then pitstops by Hamilton, Raikkonen, Vettel & alonso saw him once again in first, if only briefly.  His tyres were shot and the cars behind him were catching him hand-over-fist.  Raikkonen who had also done a two stop race was first to take him on Lap 42, then Alonso, Vettel and Massa on Lap 45, Hamilton and Webber got him when he pitted, but would have overtaken him on track and then his team-mate Paul di Resta would have overtaken him for 7th place but was told to hold station in 8th. This was confirmed by Robert Fernley, Deputy Team Principal Force India after the race:
Paul was on the opposite strategy and finished just a fraction behind Adrian in the end. He probably could have passed Adrian in the closing laps, but he held station to ensure we brought home the strong team result

We had a few issues on the grid, getting the telemetry from the car to the pits, which wasn’t ideal in terms of the guys knowing where to set everything up for the start. We lost KERS also for the first part of the race. It looked like we were quite heavy on the first set of tyres and we weren’t that quick to challenge for the win as a team today. We had a slow pit stop (which was due to a front jack failure), which put me behind Jenson. We salvaged something in the end, but that was Melbourne today and it was disappointing not to get more out of it.- Mark Webber on his race
© Getty Images/Infiniti Red Bull Racing
Kimi Raikkonen came home the deserved winner having raced hard all the way and, having a car under him that allowed him to complete the race on two stops certainly did much to give Lotus the first victory of the season. After the race he commented in his typical understated style

I had a good feeling that we would be ok with the tyres after practice and the team got the strategy perfect. I made a few places at the start and then had a good battle with Lewis [Hamilton] but after that it was quite simple; probably one of my easiest wins

Fernando Alonso took second but claimed it was as good as a win for the team:
with the degradation we had, it would have been impossible to manage on one less and bringing forward the second one by a few laps meant I was able to pass Vettel and Sutil. Finishing ahead of the Red Bull tastes like a win, even if we know that despite today’s race result, they are still the quickest
Sebastian Vettel came in third, with Massa, Hamilton and Webber completing the top 6.

Hamilton was happy with his race, even if he hoped for more: The car felt really good out there; I had a strong first stint and was able to make the supersofts last longer than most of the others. We’d planned for two stops but converted to a three-stop strategy during the race. I don’t quite know where we lost the ground to the cars ahead so we’ll have a look at the race again now and figure it out
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
Romain Grosjean completed the top 10 behind Button, not knowing exactly what went wrong with his race. He said that something felt wrong with the car and it was a difficult race for him but:
It’s been a great weekend for the team with Kimi’s win so it’s clear there’s pace in the car. Let’s hope I can unlock that pace too next weekend in Sepang
Sutil was the talk of the pitlane, but looking at the race in the cold light of the following day it's clear that the car is not able to compete at the sharp end as of yet.  They are, though, in the situation of being the best of the rest which will give them the courage to push on and look to break into the top 5.

If McLaren continue to hurt, their job may be simpler than anyone thought possible.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Qualifying in Australia

After Q1 was delayed by 30 minutes Charlie Whiting called Qualifying off until this morning, Midnight GMT, when the cars went out on a drying track on intermediates for Q2.  The McLarens, who have been off the pace all weekend performed poorly, with Jenson pulling a couple of laps out of the bag to take 4th in Q2, with the Mercedes of Rosberg revelling in the conditions.

Eventually though, with the track producing a dry line the Red Bulls showed themselves at last. Vettel took pole, with Webber second. Hamilton 3rd, Massa 4th, Alonso 5th, Rosberg 6th, Raikkonen 7th, Grosjean 8th, di Resta 9th and Button 10th.

Button ran one lap too much and with a car that the drivers are obviously not comfortable with there was little he could do.  McLaren will be hoping for rain later on and it is expected to arrive during the race.  Will it be early enough for a car that looks like it might struggle to stay in the top 10.

Massa outqualified Alonso again, for the third race in a row and was very "positive" in the post quali interviews.

Worth noting that both Caterhams are at the back of the grid, outqualified byh both Marussia's.  Charles Pic failed to make the 107% time due to the torrential conditions of Q1 versus the drying track in Q3.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Qualifying delayed Down Under

Sneaking my Sky coverage via someone else's SkyGo (with their permission), I switched on at 5am to find the Melbourne broadcast area were suffering serious power outages which threatened to ruin the first qualifying of the season.  Once they came back on it was clear that the rain was torrential, so torrential that race control delayed Q1 firstly by 10 minutes and following the medical car's inspection of the track another 10 minutes while the TV pictures showed marshalls' randomly sweeping water from one part of the circuit to another, some of it was obviously being done in a very desultory manner given the futility of the exercise.

FP3 was generally wet apparently, but Romain Grosjean managed to put in a dry lap in the 1m26s.  I just couldn't get up at 2.30am and then again at 5am - too much and, let's face it, priorities dictate that Quali is far more important.

Melbourne, being a temporary, street circuit, doesn't drain in any way as quickly as a proper race track so it holds the water and the constant threat is that the cars would aquaplane.

With 5 rookies on the grid it was probably a good plan not to bring the cars out in the conditions experienced.

The upshot being that up until 6.20am I've been watching filler.  Up for 2 hours and as of yet, no F1!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Revise your Predictions Free Practice indicates Chaos

Well, Well, Well, lots of performance we expected and a couple of things I certainly didn't see coming.

Jules Bianchi impressed in both Free Practice Sessions. Rookie of the Day.
No media rights for the Blog with Marussia so this is courtesy of Force India
© Sahara Force India Formula One
Talking about expectations I'd like to start at the back of the grid and point out the performance of Jules Bianchi.  This must be the outstanding performance of Free Practice.  He beat his teammate and both Caterhams in FP1.  He beat Max Chilton by 0.913s and left the Caterhams over a second behind.

Perhaps more impressively he was within 0.3s of Daniel Ricciardo's Toro Rosso in 18th and less than 0.5s off Jean-Eric Vergne's pace.  Stunning performance first time out.

In FP2 he did it again, taking 18th from the nearest Caterham of Charles Pic by 0.469s, and once again finished only 0.31s behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas in 17th and 0.728s behind Jean Eric Vergne in 16th.

Rookie of the day without a doubt.

The Red Bulls dominated Friday's Free Practice sessions
© Pirelli F1
Elsewhere, meaning at the front, it was, predictably,  the Red Bull's leading the charge with Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes forming up some distance behind them after FP2.  Whilst 0.3s is nothing at all at the back of the grid, once you get up to the front it's the difference between the 2nd and the 4th row.  If we remember last year the grid in Melbourne where the first 8 places were covered by less than a second and 3rd -7th by
less than 0.4s.

Mercedes once again impressed and, if it had not been for a problem with Lewis Hamilton's car in FP2, which saw him end up in the gravel, they may have been very much closer to the Red Bulls up front.

Lewis Hamilton (No.10 being the only way I can identify his car) ended up in the gravel but the indications are that the Mercedes is on the pace
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
In the midfield the surprise of the day was Adrian Sutil beating his team-mate in both FP sessons.  It will be vitally important for Paul di Resta to beat Sutil in Qualifying tomorrow if he is to lay down a marker for the rest of the season.

The surprise teams have been McLaren and Williams and not for the right reasons.  In FP1 Jenson Button was 9th, 1.2s off the pace, whilst in FP2 he didn't improve his time to any great extent whilst those around him did, with the result that the leading McLaren sat back in 11th some 2.4s behind Vettel in P1.  Sergio Perez remained stubbornly 2 places behind Jenson in both sessions.  The one note of caution which I might inject at this stage is that last year, in FP2, both McLarens sat some 4s off the pace before going out and dominating Qualifying.  They had sat on the top of the 2012 timesheets in FP1 and FP3 though so how much  credence we can attach to that is questionable.

No joy for McLaren in Free Practice with both drivers well off the pace
© Vodafone McLaren Mercedes 
Button summed the day up:
Our short runs weren’t particularly encouraging, to be honest. We’re a couple of seconds off the pace, by the looks of things, and that’s always going to be disappointing for a team as successful as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Whilst Martin Whitmarsh seemed very downbeat:
Well, today has been a very challenging day. Our car appears to be lacking in grip and consistency, and is suffering from significant understeer and poor ride. Try as we might, we didn't move forward in performance terms during the course of the day, either
Valtteri Bottas learns the Melbourne Track. Williams haven't shone in Free Practice
© LAT Photographic/WilliamsF1
Williams was another team which failed to follow through on the expectations of the F1 Journalists and Bloggers, with Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas both stuck behind the Force India's and the Sauber's in both practice sessions.  Only in FP2 did Maldonado break out of the 1m29s, but Bottas, never having tested the circuit before, couldn't break that time barrier.  In FP2 this put him behind the Toro Rosso's.  Mike Coughlan wasn't giving anything away at this stage, nor were the two drivers sounding very downbeat about their prospects:
We did some aero evaluations this morning comparing the two packages that we brought to Melbourne. We'll be running our FW35 launch aero package for the remainder of the weekend as it has proven better around the Albert Park circuit and in the conditions we have here. This afternoon we ran through a fuel level and tyre programme. We'll now look at the data and be ready for tomorrow
Whilst three of the back four managed to make times in the 1m30s region Giedo van der Garde in the second Caterham failed to break 1m32s.  Caterham could be facing into a very long season should this remain the case, and, whilst it is too soon to be talking of dismissing drivers, should Giedo fail to produce results within 10ths of seconds of his team-mate Caterham will not be able to afford to keep him on.  The first four, Fly-away races, will determine the fate of this Dutch F1 driver.

Free practice 1 Results

1 S Vettel (GER) Red Bull 1'27.211
2 F Massa (BRA) Ferrari 1'27.289
3 F Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 1'27.547
4 LC Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1'27.552
5 M Webber (AUS) Red Bull 1'27.668
6 KM Räikkönen (FIN) Lotus 1'27.877
7 N Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1'28.013
8 A Sutil (GER) Force India 1'28.426
9 J Button (GBR) McLaren 1'28.440
10 R Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1'28.520
11 S Perez (MEX) McLaren 1'28.597
12 N Hülkenberg (GER) Sauber 1'28.786
13 P di Resta (GBR) Force India 1'28.910
14 P Maldonado (VEN) Williams 1'29.443
15 V Bottas (FIN) Williams 1'29.928
16 E Gutiérrez (MEX) Sauber 1'30.203
17 JE Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1'30.729
18 D Ricciardo (AUS) Toro Rosso 1'30.969
19 J Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1'31.263
20 M Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1'32.176
21 C Pic (FRA) Caterham 1'32.274
22 G van der Garde (NED) Caterham 1'32.388

Free practice 2 Results

1 S Vettel (GER) Red Bull 1'25.908
2 M Webber (AUS) Red Bull 1'26.172
3 N Rosberg (GER) Mercedes 1'26.322
4 KM Räikkönen (FIN) Lotus 1'26.361
5 R Grosjean (FRA) Lotus 1'26.680
6 F Alonso (ESP) Ferrari 1'26.748
7 LC Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1'26.772
8 F Massa (BRA) Ferrari 1'26.855
9 A Sutil (GER) Force India 1'27.435
10 N Hülkenberg (GER) Sauber 1'28.187
11 J Button (GBR) McLaren 1'28.294
12 P di Resta (GBR) Force India 1'28.311
13 S Perez (MEX) McLaren 1'28.566
14 D Ricciardo (AUS) Toro Rosso 1'28.627
15 E Gutiérrez (MEX) Sauber 1'28.772
16 P Maldonado (VEN) Williams 1'28.852
17 JE Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso 1'28.968
18 V Bottas (FIN) Williams 1'29.386
19 J Bianchi (FRA) Marussia 1'29.696
20 C Pic (FRA) Caterham 1'30.165
21 M Chilton (GBR) Marussia 1'30.600
22 G van der Garde (NED) Caterham 1'32.450

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Until Sunday!

Until Sunday the 11 teams are equal, until Sunday any driver can win, until Sunday everyone can dream the dream... 

Fernando Alonso predicts Melbourne is wide open; Domenicalli wants a Ferrari on the podium
© Scuderia Ferrari
In the Thursday Drivers' Press Conference fernando Alonso made exactly the correct prediction in relation to who would win this weekend's first Formula 1 race in Melbourne:
This year, there is some consistency through the grid and I expect the five top teams to have a little advantage, but of those five teams, it is very difficult to say after winter testing which of them will have the extra two or three tenths that can produce a win. It’s very close and difficult to choose one favourite. I think Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus and Red Bull all showed potential at different times during testing, indeed in different races last year, so it’s hard to choose
Any of ten drivers might win based on the information which we have seen come out of Barcelona and Jerez.

He does feel that this year Ferrari go into the first race in competitive shape and, as Stefano Domenicalli said a couple of days ago Ferrari want to finish with a driver on the podium here.

The fact is that none of the drivers have a clue about where they all stand.  What they do know is that come Sunday evening we'll all have a much better idea of just where each of the teams stand in terms of raw pace, reliability and championship dreams.

I wouldn't take any result from Melbourne as being a determining factor in how the championship will go because of the lack of any real understanding of how the tyres will operate.  Some of the teams have yet to run the supersofts, having ignored laptimes in favour of consistency in testing.

Melbourne will give some teams a welcome surprise in terms of speed and performance whilst others may find themselves in the unwanted position of having to reassess their dreams and predictions in light of the performance of the teams around them.

Some of the teams have built themselves up on foot of testing and are talking significant improvement: I'm looking at the statements from Force India's top brass and from the guys in Toro Rosso; they will find that everyone can't be in 6th position come the end of the season.

Other teams, like Mercedes and Lotus, seem very confident and excited but are talking down their chances. They know that they will find themselves either up at the front, where they feel they could be, or sitting back in 5th or 7th depending on others.  For these guys there's a palpable excitement; they feel they've done enough and they are praying that this feeling is confirmed on Sunday.  This car is the product of months of hard work and I sense that there will be a huge disappointment in these teams should they find that this work has only maintained the status quo.

Williams have said very little about the car to warrant the expectations being placed on them by the journalists and bloggers (like me), but last year the team underachieved with a race winning car, this year we seem to all expect the package to come together.  The team has also been strengthened by the promotion of Valtteri Bottas to the race seat.  There's a lot of pressure on him to perform, on Pastor Maldonado to remain fast and achieve consistency, and on the team to live up to the promise that showed but was never achieved last year.

That's why Melbourne is so special, first race of the season, hundreds of unknowns, Elation on the part of some desolation for others.  But until Sunday nobody knows just where they stand in the pecking order and everyone can dream until the reality bites...on Sunday 

"Make the most of Now" Vodafone end McLaren tie-in

McLaren always do these things in an understated way, don't they? No fuss, just down to business.

Their Press Release was entitled "Partnership announcement" and simply stated that
Vodafone and McLaren have today confirmed that their very successful seven-year title partnership will conclude at the end of the 2013 season
Then the obligatory reprise on the "highly successful" last seven years before landing the sucker punch:
While the current title partnership is in place with Vodafone, McLaren will not disclose its new title partnership, but will make an exciting announcement on 2nd December 2013, following the last Grand Prix of the season
The intimation being that they have already lined up the new title partner. Without bothering to get specific, I think we all know who that might be.

The further intimation in the Press Release is that McLaren and Vodafone parted ways because the new deal would be substantially more than the current one and Vodafone just weren't in the ballpark when it came to the numbers.

There is one potential problem, the spanner/pliers under the brake pedal (if you'll allow me to reference Johnny Herbert's 1998 Italian GP retirement experience).  If the new title partner is who we all think it might be then it's likely that the deal will be predicated upon a certain driver remaining at McLaren.  If that driver fails to deliver McLaren performances...

The McLaren Press Release takes pains to point out that Vodafone is McLaren's fourth title partner in 50 years; invoking images of longevity, trustworthiness, strong working relationships.  While I'm pretty hopeful that the particular driver referenced herein will turn out to be a "find", the fact is that, should we all be wrong the deal may go sour before the December deadline.